Guest Post - Shannon Woolfe

Catch de Fuckin' Ball! And Thanks For All The Fish!

“Catch de fuckin ball! Dats wat dey pay you for!“

This was the refrain from the man who sat just below us on the hill overlooking the cricket pitch. His barrage continued throughout the afternoon, Elephant beer after Elephant beer was emptied and we hoped he would just pass out, “Catch de fuckin ball!” Sometimes he would stand and teeter a few steps closer to the edge of the pitch and rattle his bottle at the player he was so intent on. The ball never came to that side of the pitch, it was every where but in the vicinity of this player, but our man wanted to make certain that the ball was caught, or else money had been wasted, “Dat’s wat dey pay you for! So catch it, catch de fuckin’ ball!”

That was my first cricket match in Bermuda -- the Indian team was passing through on their way to South Africa. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, captain of the Indian team and a world wide Cricket sensation, strolled through the crowd at tea time and we got to shake his hand. The Indians came with their own fans. who played drums, blew horns, and rang bells and all were very gracious. The Bermuda team was abysmal -- they were clearly in over their head playing their esteemed guests, and our man on the hill wasn’t helping matters. His performance ended with a run on the pitch and a soft tumble -- there he lay, face down, whispering to the dust, ”Catch de fuckin’ ball . . . “ and he was summarily removed from the pitch, and carried to the clubhouse where I guessed he was put into cold storage.

Here’s what I know about Cricket, and notice I can only compare it to Baseball: The pitcher is a bowler. The batter is a batsman. The field is a pitch. Home plate is the wicket. The outfielders seem randomly placed and they have odd names like Leg Slip and Long Stop. The bowler can hit the batman with the ball and it counts against the batsman! The bowler seems to work harder than anyone else and the batsman seems to be in grave danger most of the time. Spectators consist of round bellied Bruces and perplexingly gorgeous women in bikinis drinking beer out of measuring cups. Oh, most importantly, no one seems to care about time -- in fact, its very possible that wherever a Cricket match is being played, all clocks begin to run backwards and space and time warp into some globular dense mass that physicists have yet to name. You could go to a Cricket match on a Thursday afternoon and very well wake up on the previous Monday night having seen the whole match and under the impression that you saw the sun set at one point, and the Elephant beers under your pillow are still full, despite the fact that you drank them . . . or did you? See Cricket messes with the physical forces of nature.

I have been to exactly three Cricket matches. The India Bermuda match, Bermuda’s 1997 Cup Match, and one local Bermuda match which I watched from a cliff in St. David’s so the players were very very small and the wind was blowing terribly hard, because I think a gale was coming in from the south, so perhaps that match doesn’t really count, so make it two matches. I’ve seen plenty of it on television, but its even more incomprehensible on the tube, and besides, the cameramen get so bored they are constantly doing close-ups of the perturbingly beautiful girls in bikinis that you don’t see much of the game. But I like the sound of it when it’s on TV -- I like the hushed voices of the South African announcers and the cow bells and the little brass Indian horns, they fill the house and make me feel as though I could get on my motorbike and go to John Smith’s Bay for a quick swim before supper, even though its snowing outside.

But here’s what I really want to tell you, the meat of the matter: Don’t go to Bermuda during Cup Match. And by all means, don’t try to repatriate yourself during Cup Match . . . don’t worry, I’ll explain in a moment. Plan your Bermudian vacation for anytime other than the last few days of July and the first few days of August. Trust me, and if you don’t, you’ll regret it. And now you ask, WHO are you to tell me not to visit Bermuda during Cup Match? A former expat, that’s who.

So, what is Cup Match? It’s a two-day Cricket Match commemorating Somer’s Day, emancipation day for the slaves of Bermuda. Ask any Bermudian and they’ll tell you that years ago Somer’s Day wasn’t a work holiday, but some folks didn’t care to work on emancipation day, so they started calling in sick or taking vacation days, and next thing you know the island Cricket teams of Somerset and St. George’s started playing a match on that day, so no one wanted to miss that, and time went by, and the bosses realized that nobody was showing up for work on Somer’s Day, so they gave in and made it an official Island holiday, but somehow it morphed into two days, and for all I know, since I don’t live there anymore, it could be three or four days now. Every business on the island shuts down and everyone goes Camping. Camping? Yes, Camping! The natives move out of their houses and into tents all around the Cricket pitch, which alternates from Somerset to St. George’s every year. If they’re not camping at the pitch, they’re camping at the beach or in one of the national parks. I even saw a compound of tents on a stretch of marsh near the airport in ‘97. The island goes back to nature and Cricket, and if you’re a tourist, forget it, you’re outta luck!

My first Cup Match, my only Cup Match, was a blissful event. My husband had days off, we were in full-on Expat Life. We packed a cooler, bungied it to the motorbike and dashed out to St. George’s for the match. The Bermudian sun beat down on the crowds, there was music everywhere, and cold beer and Dark and Stormies. We watched the Governor play crown and anchor in the big tent, he was magnificently sweet and I think genuinely thrilled to be surrounded by the hoi polloi. And Mrs. Governor was there with him, her bright West Higland terrier on a leash at her side -- the little dog would become the center of controversy not long after that, as he died in quarantine back in the UK when the Governor and his wife ended their duty on the island, we all thought, surely if the Gov’s dog died in quarantine, they’d abolish it!

The crowds were deliciously colorful with Portuguese girls dressed like Spice Girls, expats from Canada, England, Scotland, and the U.S.,  old Bermudian men stood shoulder to shoulder with proper stiff white Bermudians. There were plenty of barefooted college kids, most of whom I recognized as interns from the Biological Station, neighbors, friends, the ladies from the bank, and the children who bagged our groceries at the Portuguese market. Occasionally you spotted a bewildered tourist, perhaps an American couple, pale, sunburned, socks and sandals, in need of air and rescue, because no one had told them it was Cup Match, ”Sweetie?“ asks the pink tourist wife of her pink tourist husband.

”Yes dear?“ He stares blankly at a group of Portuguese girls admiring a new motorbike. He’s never seen girls like them, American girls don’t look like that.

”What are we doing here?“ says the pink wife, now she’s looking up at the sun, she feels faint.

”I don’t know dear, I really don’t know . . .“

I remember riding home on the back of the bike as the day was turning to night -- the waters on the South Shore sat still and cerulean in the late summer heat. I had my arms wrapped around my husband as he cornered our bike close to the limestone walls -- we were quite free, and completely unaware that we’d be involuntarily repatriated exactly one year later.

And we were, July 1st of 1998 came with a letting go of my husband and all his colleagues. We were given exactly thirty days to leave the island. Thirty days might seem like plenty of time, but it was a crush of tasks. And worst of all, we were scheduled to fly out August 1st, the first day of Cup Match. We had to sell all our belongings, our mini car, our motorbike. We put an ad in the Royal Gazette and they misprinted the sale price -- we were asking $2,500 for the perfect little yellow Scarabeo, but the classifieds listed it for $25! The phone rang day after day, ”Are you de one sellin’ de Scrabbeo for $25?“ No! and we’d hang up. Luckily we found a lovely Italian couple who bought the bike for its proper price. We had our Leaving The Island Sale and every one came and talked down all our prices, because they know you’re desperate, you’re leaving, you’re at the mercy of Time! The physics of Cricket couldn’t slow down our Leaving the Island schedule, in fact, other forces seemed to be hurrying us up.

We had to find a home to go to in the States. And jobs! It was frightening. We had a dog and two cats. The airlines announced they wouldn’t fly dogs from or to Bermuda in August because of the heat! I actually called the Harbor Master and inquired about booking passage on a cargo ship for me and my dog. I got as far as talking to a ship captain, he was willing to take me and Jack to a port in New Jersey. But the airlines changed their minds, as long as the temperature was below 80 degrees on the morning of departure, my dog could fly. We were in a flurry the last two days, packing boxes for movers, filling out every sort of customs form possible, and carrying out the business of repatriation. BUT there was a small problem: the rest of the island was preparing for Cup Match. Everywhere we went, the vet’s office to get health certificates for our pets, the banks to close out our accounts, the government house to assure them we were in fact leaving, all of them said, Come Back on Monday! And we replied, But Monday is too Late, we’ve been ordered to leave by those fellows in Government. Our Work Permit is no longer valid. Monday is three days too late!

The lady at the Bank of Bermuda told us she couldn’t close out our account, and couldn’t we send a trusted friend to do it on Monday? Yeah, Lady, we’re going to get on the plane on Saturday, have our passports stamped Involuntarily Repatriated and leave our money here!!?? We refused to leave the bank until someone would close out our account. They huffed and they puffed and they gave us our money, minus all those silly exchange pennies. They say the Bermudian Dollar is tied to the US Dollar, but oddly, when you leave the country, those Bermudian Dollars in your bank account seem to lose several pennies each as they are exchanged for US currency. We didn’t have time to negotiate, we watched them wire the money dollar by dollar to our account in the US. We got forms in triplicate, signed and stamped and all signed again. We sold our car to the man at the Aquarium on the very last afternoon. Houdini the Taxi Driver came for us on Saturday morning and we drove past the throngs of tents on the roadsides and kept hoping the temperature would stay below 80 degrees. The mercury was with us, Immigration stamped our passports, my good hound was put on the plane and we got out of Bermuda by the skin of our teeth.

(I am indebted to Wolfy for taking the time to write this piece for the blog. My fascination with America and its citizens is being tweaked. Thank you Wolfy. WW)

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